Amy Wilson, president and CEO of Visit Sheboygan Inc., says people sometimes are disappointed to hear that the county’s large, high-profile golf events typically don’t deliver an immediate bounce in tourism. Good things, however, come with time.
Sheboygan County has only about 2,000 hotel rooms available. Those were booked two and a half years prior to the 2020 Ryder Cup, which will run Sept. 25-27, and they just scratch the surface of the 30,000 rooms needed for the event. This means people will look to Milwaukee, Green Bay, Fond du Lac and the Fox Cities for accommodations, leading to a 50- to 100-mile daily commute.
The grounds at Whistling Straits will include a vendor village with anything spectators, golfers and their entourages, and the media will need, and “people don’t really leave that just to pop into Sheboygan,” Wilson says.
“We sure do see a residual effect the next year throughout the whole county,” she says, whether that’s golfers coming back to play the Whistling Straits courses or exploring all the lakeshore has to offer.
In addition to that bounce-back effect, and increasing awareness of the county’s attractions, the Ryder Cup, which brings together the best American and European golfers, is expected to deliver $135 million of direct economic impact to the region.
Chad Pelishek, director of planning and development and sustainability coordinator for the City of Sheboygan, says the city looks at the Ryder Cup and other major events as a chance to get the city’s marketing out. All of the county’s hotel rooms are also already booked for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which will be held July 13-16 in Milwaukee.
In anticipation of both events, the city is working on beautification and signage efforts, and it’s engaging in a continuous dialogue with the police department on safety and security. In addition, the Sheboygan County Municipal Airport was designated as a user-fee airport, meaning passengers and aircraft from foreign countries can land for a fee and go through customs onsite. The county is constructing a $3.7 million customs and visitors center at the airport.
A new welcome
For Ryder Cup spectators who do venture into Sheboygan, a new visitor center will await them. Visit Sheboygan Inc.’s new headquarters is on track to open in April, and it will be anything but your typical visitor center.
While the new center, located on South Eighth Street, will present the traditional offerings of brochures, tourist information, a gift shop and staff onsite to assist people, it will also include attractions and exhibits. The Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan, a nonprofit dedicated to creating affordable pathways to boating on Lake Michigan, will share the site.
“Our main focus inside the visitor center will really be pushing people toward learning more about our No. 1 tourism asset, which is our lakefront. A lot of people like to travel the coast, but they don’t really start to experience it, and we want to open that up,” Wilson says.
The center will include a focus on Visit Sheboygan STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics). Wilson says at first blush, STEAM and a tourism center don’t seem to mesh, but the two come together to meet the wishes of next-generation travelers who are interested in the outdoors and immersing in local adventures.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration exhibit will feature an online feed that will link to more than 400 programs and allow visitors to immerse themselves in activities such as viewing active volcanoes or going back in history. People can learn about Lake Michigan’s natural environment while walking through environmental gardens behind the center.
Kathy Cannistra, owner of Milwaukee-based KM Exhibits and a consultant for the project, says the center will offer ample educational opportunities. The gardens will showcase green infrastructure such as rain gardens, micro prairies, bio soils and natural grasses. Visitors can learn about efforts to transform lands to help aid in water runoff absorption.
The center also will offer a science vessel that can hold 15 to 20 people and go out on Lake Michigan to engage in recreational and educational activities. Remotely Operated Vehicles will help facilitate environmental studies and allow for viewing of habitats and some of Lake Michigan’s amazingly preserved shipwrecks.
Science in the Sky is an elevated structure that will be cantilevered above the Sheboygan River. Wind- and solar-powered, it will offer an off-the-grid classroom and environmental science space.
“We’re looking at incorporating technology in different ways to experience some of the great assets that we have in Sheboygan,” Cannistra says.
If approved, a proposed new workforce housing development would be the largest in Sheboygan’s history. Missouri-based Green Street Development Group LLC has proposed the $45 million, 250-unit project that would be built on the site of a blighted, vacant 15-acre parcel of land that was the site of a concrete manufacturing plant.
The city council still needs to approve the project, but if it goes forward, Pelishek says he anticipates an April 2020 groundbreaking for the 16,000-square-foot building.
“The county has 3,000 jobs open and an unemployment rate of 2.4 percent, and there’s nobody to fill jobs. The only way we’re going to fill jobs and fill positions is by recruiting from the outside, and we just have had a shortage over the years of housing,” Pelishek says of the need for workforce housing.
The workforce housing project would join several other multifamily developments that have either opened or will soon open. In the last three years, 260 units have opened and are now fully occupied. When the 7Penn Apartments and Badger State Lofts open, they’ll offer another 66 and 118 units, respectively.
Single-family housing options remain a large need, but Pelishek says a developer is working on final plans for platting out a 129-acre subdivision. It would be the city’s first new subdivision in 15 years. Pelishek is optimistic it will progress and begin moving forward in early 2020.
On the business development side, construction recently finished on the 147-acre, $11 million SouthPointe Enterprise Campus. Lots range in size from 2 acres to 20-plus acres, and Pelishek says the development represents an advance move to help the city become more competitive on the industrial front.